21 Nov Interview with Antonis St. Stylianou, Chairman of The Cyprus Ports Authority (CPA), and Panayiotis Agathocleous, Limassol Port Manager
BF: The CPA celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Please tell us about your role, contribution to Cyprus and its economy. How important is The CPA to the nation and what have been some of your major achievements?
Antonis Stylianou: As one of the biggest semi-governmental, autonomous organizations in Cyprus, The CPA regulates and oversees the operation of port activities and also monitors marine traffic in our territorial waters. We have authority over the lighthouses, so invest a lot in the security of marine traffic and are also responsible for the promotion of port activities.
Despite the commercialization of the port services in the new Port of Limassol in 2017 and of Larnaca Port in 2022, The CPA plays an important role as the landlord, regulator and operator of the ports. We are active across three main pillars.
Our first pillar of action is the operating part, in the retainer area in the new Port of Limassol and in other port areas of the island. We are the landlords of the ports, have operations, provide port services, and we oversee port developments in general. The second pillar arrived in 2017 and involves the regulation of port activities, while the third is the supervision of port activities.
Obviously, we cooperate with all partners involved in Cyprus’ maritime industry. We promote activities, plans and strategic planning. Not only is Cyprus standing at a geographic location at the crossroads of different continents, but we are pioneers in advancing the new trends in the general port industry worldwide. For example, during the pandemic, we were pioneering on the exchange of goods, crew changes and repatriation of them, on the demobilization of cruise vessels.
Panayiotis Agathocleous: Since 1973, we have faced quite a lot of challenges, one of which was the expansion of the ports to match the expansion of the maritime transport. Various transportation methods emerged, containers were introduced in the 1980s for instance, which meant we had to invest in infrastructure as well as in superstructure. We had to purchase quay cranes to load and unload container ships, dredge the sea basin to accommodate bigger vessels and introduce all kinds of new methods and technologies to meet the needs of the market.
In the mid-1980s Cyprus was the biggest transportation hub for shipping for transshipment, with cargo being transported to Cyprus and then transported to the final destination. We were revolutionary at that time and have elaborated quite a lot on that, but we lost quite a lot of transshipment traffic to the Turkish embargo.
This embargo introduced restrictions to vessels flying the Cypriot flag, vessels visiting our ports and vessels being managed by Cypriot companies based in Cyprus. These were not allowed to go directly to Turkish ports. This has created problems and had negative effect on the business of transshipment.
We have lost about 80% of our transshipment activity due to these restrictions which are still enforced today. One of the major issues that we are raising in the international communities like the EU is the lifting of the embargo.
We have managed to overcome this through different developments, such as using Larnaca Port as the second largest port on the island to provide options and availability to partners. We have also created the industrial port of Vasilikos that aims to help us in the development of a hydrocarbon industry. It’s one of the major projects of the State and a major project for us as well.
BF: As we look ahead, what are The CPA’s main priorities in the medium-term?
Antonis Stylianou: A crucial focus is making our activities more environmentally friendly and supporting the country’s green energy transition. Since we are in the EU we need to align with the block regarding climate change issues and the regulations for “Fit for 55” which aims to decarbonize industry, as well as ports and airports. We have a full plan for transitioning into the green economy. As we always say at The CPA: “Blue is the new Green.”
The CPA is a huge coastal landowner and we welcome companies that can provide us with cutting-edge fuels for the new energy voyage that the maritime industry is about to embark on. That might be biofuels or hydrogen, which is considered to be the future for the maritime industry.
We aim to create the first green port in the Southeastern Mediterranean involving a €45 billion investment from our own funds. This green port in Western Cyprus will only use renewable energy, meaning no carbon footprint.
Another goal is to transform Vasiliko Port into the main industrial port of the region through an investment of around €355 million. We are aiming to expand the port basin and the infrastructure of the quays, while abiding by green standards and fully respecting the marine environment.
We want to be pioneers and to open new horizons in the industry. As we did in the past and as we proved during the economic crisis of 2013 and the pandemic in 2019-2020.
Panayiotis Agathocleous: Cyprus has a very strategic location and is a safe harbor for all port and maritime activities. In conjunction with the proximity of the Suez Canal – where freight transits from the Far East to Europe and vice versa – we want to develop transshipment operations to serve the needs of the European market.
We are also trying to develop alliances with neighboring ports because cruising in the Mediterranean requires strong cooperation. It is not a competitive activity, but you need collaboration, cooperation and the same standards among ports on the itinerary of a cruise liner. The Turkish embargo does not apply to cruise ships.
BF: With tourism rebounding all over the world, what is your outlook for the cruise industry here? To what extent are you developing the industry and what are your plans?
Antonis Stylianou: Cyprus is at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East; it’s a beautiful island in a very peaceful location. Before the pandemic, we had around 100 port calls of cruise vessels every year.
In 2022 we managed to double the number of cruise ships we hosted in 2019. Currently we have around 200 calls. We also need to decide if Cyprus will become a home port for big companies and international cruise liners or whether we want to be a destination. Regardless of the scenario, Cyprus has an important role to play.
Cyprus has the ability to become a home port for international liners which will benefit the whole country because it will open new markets, new job opportunities for locals and give us a presence in the global industry. By 2030, 64 new cruise ships will be built around the Mediterranean. They all need a destination and Cyprus should be ideal for these ships.
BF: How are you interacting with and attracting foreign partners in Cyprus in the shipping industry?
Antonis Stylianou: Our goal is not just to make money. We want to be sustainable and successful and invest. We want to develop through building on our expertise and knowledge and to attract investors for them to make profits. We have attracted major stakeholders in the last six to seven years that will be operators in our industry under our auspices. It will be a public private partnership (PPP). We are the first Cypriot organization to introduce collaboration with the private sector.
BF: Digitalization is a powerful trend affecting all sectors. How are you working to enhance the digitalization of your operations and what is the impact on The CPA?
Panayiotis Agathocleous: Digitalization is one of the key pillars we work on. We started by implementing the pioneering Port Community System (PCS) in 2016, which consisted of the full digitalization of all the port operations in one system.
Users are given access to upload their formalities, itineraries, arrivals and departures, and all port activities. All the activities and services have been digitalized in a single window, in a single system where all port users and government authorities have access. PCS has also replaced the daily port meetings. This was one of the biggest digitalization projects that has been performed back and it was another pioneering task that the CPA has accomplished. The CPA was also among the first port operators in the world to introduce the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code). It was one of the most important introductions after the 9/11 attacks and involves the implementation of security measures in terms of controlling access, vessels, cargoes, passengers, everything. It was revolutionary in terms of providing high level security in the ports and we were the first to put these regulations in place.
Antonis Stylianou: It is a priority for us both to monitor the security but also the health and safety of the users of our ports. We have pioneered minimizing security risks for ports, having implemented specific plans relating to terrorist attacks, physical attacks, environmental issues and health and safety matters.
All in all, that makes our organization a very important one for anyone who wants to come and use Cyprus for transshipments, cargo freight, cruise liners, or military vessels.
Panayiotis Agathocleous: We have even had inspections from the US Coast Guard to check port security levels. Some of the measures that we have introduced have been used as good practice for the US ports, like the fencing and controlling access of people and vehicles. The CPA’s best practices have been used by the US Coast Guard as a model for their own ports.
Antonis Stylianou: We really do believe it is like a blank canvas that we have, and we are drawing the future of the industry. Despite being a small place, we have a large footprint on the industry.
The CPA is always working as a team, being transparent and extroverts. We want to show our knowledge and understanding, and we adhere to the laws and regulations that we have from the EU and other bodies relevant to our work.